JOSE RIZAL UNIVERSITY HEAVY BOMBERS
DESPITE HOLDING ITS OWN AGAINST LOWER-TIER AND MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD TEAMS, THE JOSE RIZAL UNIVERSITY HEAVY BOMBERS FAILED TO DETONATE AGAINST THE TWO CHAMPIONSHIP PROTAGONISTS, SAN BEDA AND SAN SEBASTIAN, IN SEASON 86. WITH ONLY A HANDFUL OF PLAYERS RETURN
Raycon Kabigting was one of the league’s most improved players from 2010, upping his scoring average by more than seven points and developing into a more-than-decent mid-range shooter. His three-point shooting is still a bit spotty (25 percent), but second-year head coach Vergel Meneses has given him all the confidence he needs to flourish on his final year. Alex Almario is another up-and-coming Bomber who can drive or pull-up for a jumper. What gives him the edge in the playmaking depth chart, however, is his defense.
The removal of big man Joe Etame from the team, coupled with the graduation of Marvin Hayes, has opened the door for other big men to emerge. John Lopez (6.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 48 FG%) had a breakout campaign last year and will serve as JRU’s primary weapon down low. Rookie John Villarias has good size and length at the shooting guard spot and can contribute offensively. 6’6” John Montemayor is still a bit of an enigma after riding the bench for much of his career but will surely see more action in 2011.
Nate Matute (9.1 PPG, 33.7 3PT%) took his game to a higher level last year and came out of nowhere to lead his team in scoring, while forward Jeckster Apinan is no longer just a situational, one-on-one threat. He can now outwork opposing combo forwards. Meneses says Matute will still come off the bench since that’s “where he’s more comfortable” and lead a cast of rookies that’ll make up the second unit. 2010 NCAA Juniors Mythical Five selection Cris de la Paz should add athleticism
and strength to the two and three spots. New recruits Philip Paniamogan and Romnick Mendoza are gutsy playmakers who’ll be useful when pressing smaller point guards.
Meneses admits that adjusting to life without Etame will pose quite a challenge, so there’s some weight on the shoulders of the back-up frontline. Former Fatima star Ralph Monserat is a lanky but physical presence who can mix it up with guys one or two inches taller. Ronnel Carampil and Jay-ar Gaco are a bit undersized especially for the five spot, but are nonetheless proven bangers and reliable rebounders. This group, along with Montemayor, will play center by committee.
Under the tutelage of champion tactician Derick Pumaren, Meneses has gradually settled into his role. “I’m more comfortable now. I’m getting used to it,” he says in Tagalog while insisting that he has to be strict with his players too many times more than to his liking. “I’m not like that off the court but have to be because I’m the coach.”
Taking the cue from his mentor, the 42year-old Bulakenyo continues to preach a defensive-minded and workmanlike approach to the game. “What we lack in skill or height, we try to make up for with speed and hard work. We’re not the most talented team,” he explains. True enough, the Heavy Bombers led the league in second-chance points and gave up the second-least number of rebounds a contest.
JRU served up a Jekyll and Hyde performance in 2010, going a perfect 10-0 against non-stepladder squads, sweeping 4th seed Mapúa, 3-0 but losing all five games to San Beda and San Sebastian by an average margin of 15 points. The Heavy Bombers had all the right moves in all the right places in games with the lesser lights, but barely put up a fight on the big stage.
Hayes’ departure, along with the dismissals of Etame and countryman John Nchotu Njei – undeniably a vocal presence – could potentially do more harm than good in pressure-packed games. It becomes more imperative for Meneses to find a leader who can steady all nerves when push comes to shove. The time has come for Almario, Lopez and Matute to take over.
JRU’s golden generation may have come and gone, but it still has the potential to pull the rug from under top-notch opposition. The Bombers are still one of the more dangerous NCAA squads.
C PF SF SG PG John Montemayor John Lopez John Villarias Raycon Kabigting Alex Almario